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When women rise, everyone benefits

Ever wonder who’s shaping society today?  

Take a look around. 

Right now, there’s someone creating new opportunities in your local community. There’s someone using new technologies to reshape societies around the globe. There’s someone innovating new ways for more and different voices to be heard, everywhere. 

It’s her.

When women innovate, create and lead, everyone benefits.

So this International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating her – and her many accomplishments, past, present and future.  

Because we know when it’s her, it’s all of us. 

Read on to hear from three inspiring women who are using their platforms in science and technology to build a better, more inclusive future. Find out how they overcame obstacles to achieve their dreams – and how their stories inspire all of us to break down those barriers that get in the way.

Woman infront of graphical backgroundAzadeh Khojandi 

Senior Software Engineer Manager, Microsoft Australia

I grew up in Iran during the IranIraq war, which meant seeing anti-aircraft towers everywhere, hearing sirens and watching planes carrying bombs fly overhead. Back then, my dad was my staunchest support and biggest inspirationAn electronics engineer, he was always bringing home cool technology and encouraging me and my sister to learn to program.  

I was eight when first created some workable code on our family’s 8-bit ZX Spectrum PC. My dad was super pleased and gave me extra pocket money for that week. And that was the start of what became a lifelong passion for science and software engineering! 

When I joined Microsoft after 15 years as a software engineer, I found a supportive community, a range of sponsorship and mentorship programs, and inspiring female role models to look up to, including some trailblazing female engineers. But that wasn’t the case at the start of my career. I was often the only female on the team, or even in the entire company.  

And while that didn’t stop me, I know I’d have been able to plan my career a little better, learn more quickly and confidently, and probably get ahead faster if the culture had been more open and inclusive. Instead, I learned to focus on my work, continually challenging myself to think outside the box about what’s possible and what’s the right solution for any customer. I learned to brush aside negative stereotyping, change the conversation and move on, but it wasn’t always easy. 

Today, I’m passionate about trying to help create a better path for the next generation of women coming up in technology. It’s why I’m proud to be the co-organiser of Girl Geek Sydneya volunteer-run community that aims to encourage more women to go into IT and help female engineers grow in their careers. We organise all kinds of networking events including a book club, speed hiring events and an annual all-female hackathon, where inspiring women get together to solve real-world problems. So far we’ve got more than 3,000 members, and we’re still growing. 

Sometimes I think back to my eight-year-old self with her passion for coding and big dreams. It’s been quite a journey, that’s for sure. I feel truly blessed to have a community at Microsoft that gives me access to leaders who serve as my mentors and who support me in my efforts to empower others to see a different future.

Belinda CooneyWoman infront of graphical background

Chief Financial Officer, Interactive

I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in a role that somehow combined the worlds of technology and financeAt school, I’d been fascinated by maths, economics and computers, and that fascination just kept growingdidn’t know many other girls who were interested in getting into the business of technology. But then I’d also got used to being something of an outlier quite early on. In my first graduate job, for instance, I was the only female in my cohort. 

My parents always encouraged me. “If you see an opportunity, go for it!” Dad would say. What’s the worst that could happen? You won’t die if this goes wrong!” And so I’ve always held that close and just worked really hard to do the best job I can 

Today, I’ve spent over 20 years in senior roles in the financial services and technology sectors. I’ve worked across Asia, the US and Australia, collaborating closely with major clients and partners such as MicrosoftMy job is demanding, but I’m always learning something new and really enjoy seeing the impact I can have. 

There were very few female role models in technology when I was starting out, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to some phenomenal female colleagues and leaders along the way. Each inspired me with their unique working styles, capabilities, and sources of knowledge, and that gave me the courage to challenge any gender stereotyping or bias I met with. I place great importance on supporting women and now that I have the privilege of being in a more senior position, Im quick to call out any negative stereotyping I come across. If it’s not right for me, it’s certainly not going to be right for the women coming up behind me.  

also pay a lot of attention to helping create an open and inclusive internal culture that recognises women must often balance work with caring for children or elderly relatives. In fact, one of my proudest achievements is that in 2020, Interactive was voted as Australia’s best place to workI know from my own experience how a supportive work environment can play a huge role in helping young women go after the career they want. 

Of all the projects Im involved in, one that really excites me is sitting on the advisory board of Data61Australia’s leading digital research network run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)Data61 combines a focus on research excellence with policy and business relevance and impact, and gender diversity is a key part of thisIt’s vital to ensure that the application of technology is informed by the full range of uses and users. 

People from diverse backgroundbring different perspectives and viewpoints and using those divergent opinions and experiences to help us test ideas can often lead to successful innovations. And when an innovation is successful, and improves the way things arewe all win.

Woman infront of graphical backgroundDr Denise Hardesty

Principal Research Scientist and Team Leader, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

Growing up in the US in the 1970s, I was really into sport. I spent a lot of time outside, getting dirty, kicking a ball, climbing trees and mucking around. At school, I often played on the boys’ soccer teams, which I loved. One year, I joined a new primary school and a female vice-principal suggested that as a way of making friends, I could ask the boys to show me how to kick a soccer ball. I was confused. “But I already know how to play!” I said.  

It was my first introduction to a world where women can feel under pressure to be less than truly themselves as a way of fitting in. I didn’t get it then and I still don’t todayAnd my career path probably reflects that. 

As aecologist, I’ve been lucky enough to live and work on every continent, including Antarctica. I’m especially interested in addressing research questions that can make the world a better place, today and in the futureFor the last decade plus, I’ve been focusing much of my research at CSIRO on tackling the plastic pollution and marine debris. We use leading-edge technologies, including artificial intelligencedriven software from Microsoft, to interpret data collected on land, at beaches, along rivers and at sea, in countries around the world. That helps us figure out the steps we can take on land to reduce the likelihood of plastic entering our waterways and oceans.  

How do I help create change and foster the future I want to see, and the leadership I think is needed to leave the planet in a better place? Studies show that women in academia can often have lower salaries, smaller lab spaces, and less access to mentors and professional networks than men. All of these things contribute to a lack of women in STEM leadership roles. 

It’s one reason I got involved with Homeward Bound, a 10-year global initiative to equip 1,000 women in science fields with the skills to lead and influence environmental policy and decisionmakingFounded by two inspiring women I regard as mentors, the year-long program culminates in an intensive ship-board Antarctic expedition with around 85 other women scientists from around the world. They learn about climate change and polar science while undergoing an intensive training program in leadership, strategy and visibility. 

I’m passionate about supporting other women as they navigate their science careers. I often think back to the first female PhD student I supervised – young Thai woman from a farming community whose parents never had the opportunity to learn to read or write. When she completed her doctorate, I felt proud of her, and proud to support her in her achievement. She’s now teaching and carrying out research at a University in Bangkok. And another of my student’s has just won a Fulbright scholarship and is heading off to work with an incredible female scientist at a top US university. 

Supporting young womelike these in their journey is so meaningful to me. TodayI feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to mentor younger colleaguesI encourage them to seek out opinions and ways of working that are really different to their own. Surrounding ourselves with people who look and think just like we do does not yield the best outcomes. 

We want a diversity of views and perspectives to be equally heard and respected at the leadership table.Be fearless! I tell them. Challenge yourself, learn from mistakes, and keep on pushing forward.

Visit Microsoft’s Women’s History Month website for more inspiring stories and further information.